California Color Dreamin’

As summer draws to a close, the landscape here in rain-starved California is dominated by straw-colored hills dotted with silvery-green foliage.  It took me years to appreciate this dusty color palette having grown up in a place that was either bright with summer rain or starkly white under a layer of snow.  But now these mellow “Golden State” colors feel like home.  Perhaps that’s why I was so taken with San Francisco designer Benjamin Dhong’s design for a South Bay couple in the September “Color” issue of House Beautiful.

As he explains in his interview with Mimi Read, Dhong favors a mix of rustic and glamorous elements, like this green velvet ottomon paired with a distressed fireplace mantel.

He also knows his way around neutrals, as seen in the elegant white-on-white bedroom and East-West inspired living room with its sunny accessories.

After a few years awash in watery blues, it’s nice to see the sun shine in.

All photos by Lisa Romerein for House Beautiful.

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Yesterday I woke up in the early a.m. dark because my bed was shaking.  Actually, not just my bed, I realized, but the whole room.  Eyes wide open now, I recognized that it wasn’t just my room but my entire house that was shuddering in the night. “Earthquake!” I elbowed M.J. awake. “Earthquake!”

He stumbled around in an unfamiliar space (we’re sleeping downstairs while the tile work is happening upstairs), shut the door to the adjacent office and fell back into bed murmuring “ just the wind,” before promptly dozing off.  Hmm, I thought, that was some mighty wind.

I checked my phone for reports of an earthquake. I saw there’d been a 6.0 quake about 30 miles away but couldn’t believe that was the quake that had rattled me awake.  I mean, it had gone on longer than average, but 6.0 is a BIG earthquake and this didn’t seem that big.  I’d lived through the Loma Prieta earthquake, after all, and thought I knew what BIG felt like. This felt moderate, thankfully. (Not to those closer to the epicenter, I know–prayers winging their way.) But still, it was big enough to keep me restless in the dark wondering where our earthquake supply stuff landed after the move.

I’d seen the empty water canisters on top of some piles in the garage.  I knew the unplugged emergency battery/radio/flashlight thingy was in the tansu chest next to M.J.’S side of the bed. But the crow bar to get out of a collapsed house? The basic camping supplies to provide shelter?  No idea.

I’ve lived in California for 34 years now.  Long enough to know what supplies are recommended to survive in the case of a major earthquake.  Water, mostly.  Some medical supplies, a bit of food,  basic shelter items and pieces of clothing like a jacket and shoes in case the quake happens in the middle of the night and you need to walk somewhere in more than your nightgown and bare feet. Oh, and a 72-hour survival kit that you can take with you if necessary.

None of those things were in place yesterday.

So today I plugged in the battery/radio/flashlight thingy.  Filled the empty water canisters.  Located the camping supplies and ordered a new two person 72-hour survival kit.  (Inevitably, the food starts to turn or critters get into them or they get misplaced–it was time for a new one.)

A friend at the gym today said she keeps a crowbar outside her house so she could get in if she was outside and it collapsed in an earthquake. Guess we need one of those as well.  Time to reassemble a bin of old, warm clothes and shoes just in case.  Here’s hoping I’ll never need to use a single one of these things. May they all go to waste.

What emergencies do you prepare for in your part of the country/world? Do you keep emergency supplies around your house?  Inside or out? Any suggestions as I work on this latest round of emergency preparedness?

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Friday Things: The Floor Tile Edition

After taking a few months off from home-remodeling projects to travel and entertain house guests, we’re back at it. Today I’m trying to hear myself type over the bang-crash-clang of demolition.  If I didn’t know better I’d think some super heroes were duking it out upstairs.  But no, it’s the super-duper tile guys demo-ing one small bathroom floor after another.

We were just going to fix the powder room floor–remember this?– but then when we found out it would cost as much to ship the tile for three bathrooms as for one we decided to go for consistency and replace them all at once.

As you can see, the master water closet floor is well underway. Nice to know there’s a little fuschia (waterproofing) zing beneath all that tasteful Ann Sacks taupe. Here are some other zingy things I liked this week:

How to appreciate your perfectly fine imperfect home.

Maybe by jotting down some “happy accidents” in this serendipity journal?

What a wonderful mix of serendipitous finds and intentional designs in San Francisco designer Steven Brady’s apartment–especially the dresser and lamps in the closet!

Speaking of closets, I had fun taking a peek into these two very different fashion editor’s closets.

Are your chairs perfectly paired or do you, too, have some lone rangers?

Oh my, there sure has been a lot of ice water flung about lately.  What would happen if Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz decided to take the Ice Bucket Challenge?

Happy Weekend All!

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Deep into Deep Summer

Deep summer is when laziness finds respectability.

Sam Keen 


I’m enjoying a few more days of lazy summer fun until the last child heads back to college. Hope you’re spending time with people you love as well.  More soon!

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American Craft Council San Francisco Show 2014

One of the unique features in our living room is a long, narrow display niche. I don’t know what the niche will ultimately hold, but for now it showcases various “blue” objects that came out of the moving boxes.  Things like the Korean pottery M.J. picked up in Seoul when he was a Mormon missionary there thirty-some years ago; one-of-a-kind vessels gathered in other travels;  and small vases from retailers like West Elm and Heath Ceramics.  There are also some yixing teapots from my brother and a funny planter shaped like a woman’s head (with blue eyes!) that M.J. snagged from his grandmother’s estate .

I’m thinking I might find a better, more consistent direction for the niche items at the annual American Craft Council Show this weekend at Fort Mason in San Francisco. If you’re in the Bay Area and interested in fine crafts including jewelery, glass, ceramics, woodworking and textiles, you can read more about the ACC show in my BANG article here. The show runs through Sunday–maybe I’ll see you there!


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A Most Interesting Pie

About this pie.  It’s made from this recipe in response to an offhand remark from my son-in-law Dan that “everybody likes a good strawberry-rhubarb pie, don’t they?”   Apparently, a good number of people do, as 6,366 people have paused to look at this pie photo so far today on Flickr.

I’d shared the photo in Susannah Conway’s August Break 2014 Flickr group last night. This morning, a nice woman from Thailand commented on it and congratulated me on making it onto the Explore page.  I wasn’t exactly sure what it meant to be on the Explore page, so did some “exploring” of my own and discovered that the Explore page features that day’s 500–about .005%–of the most interesting photos chosen from the thousands that are loaded onto Flickr worldwide every day. The featured photos are selected by a mysterious “interestingnous” algorithm that invites ample speculation.

I can’t really tell you why this pie photo out of the tens of thousands plugged into the algorithm debuted at #106.  But I can tell you a little bit about the making of this pie.

Sydney and Dan are on break from their academic endeavors and came west to split time between their families.  We happened to have them with us on their second anniversary so invited a few family friends over to celebrate. One of them offered to pick up a favorite dessert on her way and asked for the feted couple’s favorites.  I posed the question to Sydney, she said she preferred cake to pie.  Later, with Dan in the room, after I’d already told my friend her preference, Sydney confessed that though she’d asked for cake she knew Dan preferred pie. He shrugged good-humouredly and said,  ”everybody likes a good strawberry-rhubarb pie, don’t they?”

The cake was consumed, a good time had by all, but I knew I had a killer strawberry-rhubarb pie recipe in my files and so the next day while the celebrated couple were in the South Bay visiting friends, I prepared some pie dough and asked M.J. to pick up strawberries and rhubarb on his way home from the city.  While waiting for the fruit, I rolled out half the crust, fitted it into the pie plate (why is it most often called a plate, rather than a dish or a pan?), then rolled out the other half and cut the butter and shortening-flecked dough into lattice strips.

Once the fruit was in hand, I  hulled and halved the strawberries, sliced the rhubarb, and tossed them with the sugar, cornstarch and cinnamon before pouring the mixture into the dough-lined plate.  Then I quickly laid the lattice strips on top of the fruit–half in one direction, topped by the other half in the other direction–brushed the whole thing with an egg wash and popped it in the oven.

I’d forgotten how long this particular pie took to bake (nearly two hours) so I had time to see the A’s triumph over the Tampa Bay Rays in the 10th inning.  The bubbling pie (thank goodness I remembered to bake it on a foil covered cookie sheet) was set aside to cool overnight to be enjoyed for breakfast.

Later on that next day, after returning from dropping the kids off at the airport, I took a photo of the partially-eaten pie because it looked so lovely and because, truth-be-told, I needed to lift my spirits a bit after saying goodbye.  Then I loaded the photo onto Flickr. Today as my iPad dings the news that my pie photo has been marked as a “favorite” yet again, I’m thinking that having my photo deemed interesting by strangers and an anonymous algorithm isn’t the same as having some of the most interesting people in my life under my roof.  But it has cheered me, nevertheless.


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Alonzo King on Creativity

I’m always interested in how successful artists create their work.  A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to hear four different “creators” talk about how they do what they do at a discussion on the “Structure, Art and Expression of the Creative Process” at the innovative San Francisco showroom Coup d’Etat.

Panelists included designer Jeff Schlarb of Green Couch Interior Design, architect Steven Sutro of Sutro Architects, artist Katina Huston and choreographer Alonzo King of  LINES ballet.  All of the panelists had interesting things to say, but I was especially taken with Mr. King.  Articulate and witty, he held forth like a preacher fired-up on a Sunday morning, telling us that the artist’s goal should be to “bring light into a world where there is so much despair and worry.”

Here’s a bit more of what he had to say along with some shots of creative light fixtures (raindrops! colored icicles! octopus! dinosaur fossils!) that caught my eye at Coup d’Etat.

On a creative lifestyle:  “Human beings are makers and doers.  There isn’t an on/off switch to creativity, it’s a way of living.”

On preparing to create: “I stop eating a certain way and spend much more time alone so that clarity can come to the fore.”

On originality: “When you’ve been doing this for a long time the idea of ‘authorship’ is a joke.  Everything that is discovered, created or invented exists already—you’re just excavating, waiting for secrets to be revealed.  And when you devote yourself to something, it reveals itself.”

On connecting with your audience: “A good messenger is not a showoff.  You want to make sure the message is clear.”

On challenging your audience: “If they’re giving up two hours of their time, you want to feed them well. The goal is to stir the heart or the mind, to touch them somewhere. But you also want to slap people a bit, help them come out of a stupor.”

On being tenacious: “If you’re putting out the effort now, things will improve in the future.”

On how difficult things can inform your work: “It doesn’t matter what happens to you in life, only what you become because of or in spite of it.”

Any favorite wisdom you’ve heard that helps shed light on the creative process?


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Friday Things: The Summer Travel Edition

Every time I return from a trip I think “I’ve got to find a way to do this more often.” Not because my everyday life is so tedious, but because traveling helps me make the most of my day-to-day world.  I always return more focused on what I want to do and less burdened by what I think I should be doing.

For example, I returned home from Germany at midnight and flew out to Boise first thing the next morning for M.J.’s high school reunion. When I’d booked these back-to-back trips I had great intentions of packing for both before I left town, but I got busy tying up loose ends and. . .no second bag was packed.  Fortunately, I had adopted a pretty good travel mindset after ten days on the road and didn’t worry too much about packing for the second trip even with the quick turn-around. On the plane home from Europe I plotted out two outfits I’d need for official reunion events and quickly threw them and a few other casual items in a second suitcase before crashing into bed that night.  All my little travel necessities–toiletries, travel ipod, etc.–were easily transferred from one suitcase to another on my way out the door the next morning.

Packing for the second trip–even with little sleep and no prep–was a breeze!  The difference?  I wasn’t trying to extricate myself from my ongoing life.  Even when I didn’t have everything I needed–we ended up going off-roading (!) with my sister and her new boyfriend and a pair of outdoor shoes might have come in handy–it was No Big Deal.

Lesson learned? Get into a travel mindset as much as you can and keep moving.  Here’s author Danielle Krysa talking about how to get into a travel mindset without having to venture too far afield:

And here are some other things that inspired me while I’ve been moving and adventuring:

A chicklit writer learns how to play to her strengths.

Writer Elizabeth Gilbert shares  how to keep creating.

Weird Al gives a grammar lesson.

Comedian Jim Carrey gets serious about life choices.

And finally, whether you’re on the road or taking it easy at home this August, I’d recommend participating in blogger Susannah Conway’s August Break project. It’s a (free) directed photography exercise that encourages you to take a photo a day throughout the month of August to illustrate a specific prompt like “lunch” or “blue” or “memory.”  Then, if you’d like, you can post your photo to Instagram or Flickr and see the other ways that people have found to interpret the prompt. I participated last year and found that it was a great way to tour my world–and others.

Happy Weekend All!



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European Travel Wardrobe Revisited

There’s nothing like two weeks on the road to turn doing the laundry into an absolute pleasure. Not that I didn’t have a wonderful time abroad, but it’s great to be home with a closet full of clean clothes. I have lots to share from my travels, but thought I’d start with a follow-up post on my travel wardrobe.

Overall, I’d give the Switzerland/Germany packing list high marks.  The clothes fit the demands of the climate (rainy cool to muggy hot) and activities (mostly casual with an occasional dressy dinner out and a Sunday morning church stop) just fine.  I felt comfortable and didn’t get too bored with what I’d brought, though there were some pieces that were little used and maybe didn’t justify the space they took up in my carry-on luggage. For example, the green linen shirt/jacket only came out once because I always had my grey trench as an outer layer  on the rainy half of the trip so a lighter sweater underneath was preferable.

The blue linen jacket, however, saw more use than I expected.  Most of my time in Switzerland was spent in a small suburb of Zurich where the opening scenes of my novel take place.  I wanted to go to Lenzburg this time of year because the Jugendfest (Children’s Festival) happens now and I figured I’d see some historic costumes and celebrations that might prove helpful as I work on the second draft of the book, which is set in the late 19th century.

I didn’t realize until I got there that the town’s symbol is a cornflower blue sphere and that most people attending the many activities wear some form of blue.  Check out these great azure hats:

Since I didn’t pack (or own) a blue chapeau, I was happy I had a blue jacket with me, even if the color was a little more subdued. I supplemented with blue and white accessories found on the main square–a boutonniere from a charming flower shop and a scarf I found in an antique store–and felt appropriately festive.  Here I am wearing the jacket while chatting with two women about their traditional costumes.

The jacket also came in handy for a nice dinner out in Heidelberg with my son and my niece and her husband who are working there.  It was just the right weight for a warmish evening on the Neckar River.

The other wild card was the pair of citrus green walking sandals.  I wore them quite a bit and they proved to be both comfortable and cheery.  Here they are basking in the sun as I take a ferry across the Rhine in Basel.

Speaking of footwear, my only wardrobe malfunction happened right out of the gate at SFO.  I’d decided to wear my trainers on the plane to free up room in my bag, but took them off to move through security. As directed, I placed the shoes in a bin to be scanned but they showed up on the other side of the scanner out of the bin with one shoelace severely frayed.

Dumbfounded, I took the shoe with the tattered shoelace to the young TSA guys who were equally perplexed. They had a little Keystone Cops moment before finding the footage that showed What Went Wrong.  They didn’t tell me exactly what they saw but took all my info and handed me a little card telling me where to file a claim with the TSA. We’ll see how far I get with that.

After we’d exchanged information, I was still left with a shoelace that couldn’t be tied.  I asked the TSA guys if they had a pair of scissors. They did. I cut off the frayed end, tied the shoe with a shortened lace (fortunately, the shoelaces were especially long) and headed off on my European adventure. It was a good reminder that no matter how much you plan ahead, you need to be able to roll with the travel punches when they come.


One other wardrobe note—a friend once told me that when she travels she always packs clothes she’s ready to toss, then she throws them away on the road to make room for new things she buys along the way.  I decided to do that with some underthings including an extra nightgown because I wasn’t staying long enough in any one place to do laundry.  Because I’d taken a small carry-on, I was really motivated to open up some space and so parted with items that were still serviceable but past their prime.  What do you think about this approach to a travel wardrobe?  Do you pack your best or your worst clothes when you leave home?


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Packing List: 12 Easy Pieces for Europe Travel

I’ve been busy setting up camp these past few months but now it’s time to set out on another expedition.  I’m headed to  Switzerland and Germany to do a little novel research and see our son Will who has been working in Stuttgart for the past six months. Inspired by the packing posts from Sue at Une femme d’un certain age  as she prepped for her spring trip to France, I decided to limit my wardrobe to 12 pieces (not counting under and outerwear).  Considering that the weather forecast shows cool and wet for the first part of the trip in Switzerland and hot and muggy for the second half in Germany,  here’s what I came up with:

For bottoms,  I’ve packed—

  • Boyfriend jeans (Macy’s Inc.)
  • Stone ankle crops (Eileen Fisher)
  • Black knit capris (Eileen Fisher)
  • Black stretch cotton pencil skirt (Calvin Klein)

This pretty much covers the range from long to short (or at least as short as I’m willing to wear) so I hope I can navigate the temperature changes smoothly.

For tops, I’m taking–

  • Black v-neck tee (Eileen Fisher)
  • Black and white striped v-neck tee (Eileen Fisher)
  • Pink v-neck tee (Michael Kors)
  • Black & white ikat print knit shirt (Ralph Lauren)
  • Mint green linen shirt/jacket (Eileen Fisher)
  • Denim-like linen jacket (Eileen Fisher)
  • Black three-quarter sleeve sweater (Bobeau)
  • White sweater (Michael Kors)

Lots to mix and match here and everything pretty much coordinates, though the blue linen jacket may demand more from its travel mates in terms of shape and color than they really have to offer.  Still.  I like it and want it to see the world.

On the plane I plan on wearing the jeans, black sweater, pink shirt (the better to hide spills and it’s the lightest and therefore easiest to handwash), a big scarf for warmth and my trainers.

For outerwear I’m torn between a rugged Eddy Bauer jacket in “lobster” red that was a mainstay on my rainy Peru trip and a more elegant but less waterproof slim grey trench from, again, Eileen Fisher.  Here’s the trench with my go-to walking sandals from Naot and two of my favorite travel bags–a Bagallini messenger bag that can accommodate a guidebook and a Le Sport Sac lightweight tote that can carry a host of souvenirs (exhibition guides! cheese! dirndls?).

I’m also bringing these bright trainers from New Balance and some kicky new walking sandals from Wolky in a citrusy green—one of those off colors that matches nothing exactly but complements the black/white/brights in the rest of the wardrobe which hopefully means it will match everything. This pair of sandals is the ONLY new thing I bought for this trip.  I think that’s helped keep the numbers down since often when I buy too many new things for a trip, I overpack in order to bring the new things as well as the tried and true favorites.

I’ve thrown in a couple of scarves and some silver jewelry but know I’ll likely add more on the road. These colorful glass drop earrings are from San Francisco jewelry designer Alexis Berger and can be purchased at Castle in the Air on 4th Street in Berkeley. They’re very comfortable and I love how they catch the light. The black onyx faceted discs are from Philippa Roberts on Piedmont Ave. in Oakland and I think the pendants might be from Kenneth Cole (Macy’s) a few years back.

Oh, and because Germany will be playing in the final rounds of the World Cup next week, I’ve thrown in my only red/gold scarf  to join a crowd somewhere and cheer along.  Go Deutschland!

To see the wardrobe in action, you can follow my Instagram feed by clicking on the link to the right. I’ll let you know how it all worked out when I return.

Auf Wiedersehen!


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Kathryn Pritchett

writes about Things Elemental — where we find shelter, why we connect, what sustains us and how we strut our stuff.

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